First it was large-scale cuts to social welfare programs that prompted harsh criticism of the U.S. farm bill, the piece of legislation that addresses food prices, soil erosion, national hunger and a variety of other food-related issues.
Now, it’s animal welfare.
When the U.S. House of Representatives continues hashing out the contents of the proposed farm bill, this week’s discussion will largely be centered around a controversial amendment from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would override state animal protection and food safety laws.
Animal rights advocates are concerned not only about the maltreatment of animals that may ensue if the amendment is kept in the bill — since it would overturn bans on slaughtering horses and rules requiring the regulation of puppy mills — but also the food safety, environmental protection and worker safety issues that may develop as a result of deregulation.
According to The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s largest animal rights organization, “If passed by the full House, King’s amendment could allow the overturning of every voter-approved animal welfare ballot measure relating to agriculture, including Proposition 2 in California (banning extreme confinement crates for pigs, veal calves and laying hens), Proposition 6 in California (forbidding the sale of horses for slaughter for human consumption), Proposition 204 in Arizona (banning veal and pig gestation crates) and Amendment 10 in Florida (outlawing pig gestation crates).”
California voters passed Proposition 2 in 2008, requiring farms to house chickens in cages large enough that they can stand up, turn around and spread their wings. According to the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, Calif., the size of a cage required for a chicken to do all of the above is about as big as a sheet of paper — 8 ½ by 11 inches.
According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, King’s amendment strips away states’ rights in such a dramatic way that states like California, which has banned foie gras, would have to allow the product into the state. Foie gras is a French delicacy that is made from the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened.
“Rep. Steve King’s amendment to the Farm Bill could wipe out crucial animal-protection laws nationwide, ranging from bans on horse slaughter and puppy-mill regulations to Arizona’s law banning gestation crates, Michigan’s law banning veal crates, and California’s law banning battery cages,” said Jane Dollinger, PETA’s senior media liaison, in a statement to Mint Press News. “It will even stop exposés — such as those on factory farms, in slaughterhouses, and in puppy mills — that consumers rely on for the truth about their purchases. Hazardous, filthy conditions would be kept under wraps, and no new regulations could require safer, cleaner, and more humane operations. Large corporations would have fewer controls imposed on them, and since they can litigate their way out of anything, they’d run small businesses out of business.”
Removing the King amendment
While the House version of the farm bill currently includes language that would alter states’ rights when it comes to agriculture, the Senate version does not.
The Humane Society, PETA, and other animal welfare, veterinary and consumer groups have all said they will lobby Congress this week to remove the King amendment.
National organizations that have publicly opposed the King amendment include the Center for Food Safety, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League, Natural Resources Defense Council, Organic Consumers Association, Pesticide Action Network and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society, raised concerns about the amendment on his blog.
He called it “an affront to animal welfare,” and said the amendment was an attack on the “longstanding Constitutional rights of the states to protect the health, safety and welfare of their citizens and local businesses.”
“It is so broad and vague that it could be interpreted to nullify an entire spectrum of state laws dealing with food safety, labeling, labor and environmental protection,” Pacelle wrote.
Karen Ross, secretary of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, also expressed concern about the amendment in a letter to Congress. Ross wrote that by overriding California’s food-safety laws, the King amendment posed a “significant threat” to the safety of the nation’s food supply and even the health of the agriculture industry. For example, Ross said, the amendment would override state efforts to keep out invasive species like the Asian citrus psyllid, a pest that could destroy California’s $1.8 billion citrus industry.
According to an editorial from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, a California newspaper, “Fully half of the fruits and vegetables consumed nationwide come from the Golden State. California is not only the biggest agriculture producer domestically — it’s the biggest exporter. The state’s laws are aimed at improving the lives of farm animals and protecting consumers as well; these are important regulations that deserve to thrive and influence other states, not be quashed by a federal work-around by a lawmaker in cahoots with a special interest.”
Though the amendment has become a controversial topic, it’s not the first of its kind. In 2012, King proposed a similar amendment that was later defeated by the same groups that have raised concerns about the most recent amendment.
Last year, King shared his enthusiasm after the House Agriculture Committee included his amendment in the farm bill. The proposal would prohibit states “from enacting laws that place onerous conditions on the means of production for agricultural goods that are sold within its own borders but are produced in other states,” King said.
“I am pleased that the Committee passed my amendment, the Protect Interstate Commerce Act (PICA) because states are entering into trade protectionism by requiring cost prohibitive production methods in other states,” King said. “PICA blocks states from requiring ‘free range’ eggs or ‘free range’ pork but covers all agriculture products listed in section 206 of the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946. By 2014 California will require only ‘free range’ eggs be sold and the impact of their large market would compel producers in every other state to invest billions to meet the California standard of ‘means of production.’ PICA will ensure that radical organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and PETA are prohibited from establishing a patchwork of restrictive state laws aimed at slowly suffocating production agriculture out of existence.”
While King continues to defend his amendment, other members of Congress have heard the concerns of many Americans and are working to find a solution.
Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), for example, reportedly plan to introduce their own amendment that would ban small cages in an effort to make farms more humane.
“When you have a win-win solution that is better for animals, better for consumers, and better for the egg industry, it’s time for Congress to get on board,” Pacelle said.
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